Thursday, May 18, 2017

The old country, the new country

I was born more than 3 decades ago in a prosperous (at the time) socialist/communist country in Europe.By the time I was 10 it was erased from the maps by a start of a war that will turn into years and years of never ending conflicts. That is how long I was a child, 10 years.That is how long my parents were able to see the future for me and my younger sister, and be sure they will be able to provide for us.After 1991, when Yugoslavia fell apart, or was literally torn apart, my life was very weird.
After the initial disbelief that this is actually happening to us, followed the bloodshed, killings, fear and eventual collapse of economy. Factories stopped, store shelves were empty and money lost it's value due to hyperinflation.My parents navigated the chaos the best they could, they kept going to work and bringing food home. They raised chickens in our backyard, they got wood for the stove we put in the house, once we lost electricity due to power shortages,they found a way to make preserves and stock up on flour and potatoes for the Winter...they kept on living and surviving for us.
It was not fun, I don't like to go there in my memories, but at least I wasn't kicked out of my house and we had food, others were not that lucky.
At one point, the hate that had risen out of the conflict which involved 3 main religions became very loud on the streets. My parents never raised me in either of their religions, we kinda lived in a communist country where it was not required of you to believe in anything but yourself, however, all of a sudden we started getting these papers at school that prompted us to choose a side, orthodox or catholic. I looked at them with genuine disgust, I refused to choose between my parents, one being in the first and other in the second religion, we always celebrated 2 Easters, 2 Christmas and they taught us to respect other people's choices in faith.At that point in my life I started to blame religion for all the bad things and wars around the world, everyone who comes from those places where people kill their neighbors in the name of the religion will know what I am talking about.I started to feel like I did not belong there because my mind could not see things black and white the way they wanted me to do, I just could not swallow the new wave of nationalism and hate, and I did not dare say that out loud.
Fast forward to my late twenties, I have managed to finish school for Early Childhood Educator, as well as the Teacher's University and to obtain license to teach ESL at public schools.I was married to a smart, kind man who had a degree in chemistry and master in IT, none of us was able to find proper work in a post war economy.We survived on what we could find, we lived in his parents house on the upper level that we had partially finished.We couldn't plan a family like that.In 2002 the pro-change prime minister of my country was murdered by his own policemen, we realized that there is no change for the better and no future for us there, we applied for Canadian visas the year when we got enough points to get into process, it was 2006.
We waited for the process to be finished for almost 4 years, in the meantime my son was born and then we waited a bit longer for his papers and visa to be done, he was only 3 weeks old on his first passport photo.Finally, in 2010 we were ready to go.
We had until mid June to immigrate and arrive to Canada,if we did not register here by then we would loose our visas. We bought our tickets for the end of May thinking it will ok.
Then a long named volcano in Iceland erupted for weeks , it moved, and postponed most of European and overseas flights, we became desperate to find a way to come, even looked at ships but the voyage was too long to get there in time...We finally landed here in the first week of June, in an overcrowded Alitalia plane, where my husband had to walk around so I could put my baby down for a few hours, it was the worst flight of my life.I was well aware that I bid goodbye to all of my friends, relatives, family, my former life and calling, and that I am now on my own, and that there is a chance that I might never see some of them again.
We landed in Toronto with 2 of the 3 suitcases we had packed with bare necessities, the one with baby clothes and diapers got lost, my son was to turn one the next week and I had no idea where he'll even sleep, we were crazy exhausted, our luggage stank of alcohol that leaked from someone else's case...I started to cry when the custom officer told me "Welcome to Canada."
We were then detained at the immigration with a young Roma girl coming from Germany with her baby, I started to chat with her in German and shared some baby cookies, when they realized I speak German they asked me to translate for them.We left an hour or so later and walked out to the Canadian side, it was a gray, cold rainy day over Toronto even though it was June and in my mind it was supposed to be hot and nice like the Summer I have left 13 hours behind me.
I remember thinking, looking at 401 "I will never learn how do drive here, everything is so huge, it's like a Japanese video game..."

Immigration has it's traps

I've been writing about my emigration for the last 6 years (more or less), I have tried my best to translate the old posts from the original blog to English but they don't make much sense unless you come from a similar place in the world, with similar views and problems, my posts are very -how should I put this- reflective of my point of view of the world and my feelings at the time.

So forgive me as you go trough this bumpy journey of my adventures before and now melted into one post, but I hope that you can appreciate the experience and information I share.

Post from 2010 our first Summer here:

I try to think of myself as a very down to Earth, realistic person.
Once you decide to immigrate and start fighting your way trough years of bureaucracy and paper work,hoping and waiting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,all you can think about is how you will be ok and happy and relieved when you finally get here...What you don't know is this is when the actual fight and problems start, and all that paper filling and waiting, as it turns out, was not a big deal.
There are a lot of things you won't like once you immigrate to Canada, there are things that will hurt to accept ( and it will hurt a lot)especially if you don't come from US or perhaps Germany, if you come from a third world country you will feel what it means to start from 0.

I call us immigrants in the first year zero's,
because we do not exist in this country,we are not in the system, in the first months you will have no access to covered healthcare and the banks will shun you since you are not in their files either,no credit ratings lol,and most of the time we start from 0. This means your outside of Canada education is 0 here unless you were so lucky to have listened all of your school subjects in English, your driving experience is 0 (at least in the eyes of your future car insurance which will give you rates 5 times bigger than locals),your Canadian work experience (sooo necessary to get a job here)is 0 as well, your bank credit score is 0,and let's hope your language skills are not 0 because this will make your life really hard.
Add to this that the number of people I knew in Canada was 0 at the time I decided to immigrate.
The number of people who could help us here if we got in trouble (financially or otherwise) was 0 too.

You start (well, most of immigrants at least) as one big fat 0.First year is no job, no money, a lot of hopes and effort and for most in the first 2-3 months 0 success.
You won't like this at all.This is the first trap for you, high expectations.

The second one is not knowing yourself or your partner enough, the stress of immigration and being cut from the family and relatives changes how people feel, this sadness and the rest of the problems creates tensions and arguments.After a while being stuck or degraded from what you had, and where you were before you decided to come will bother either you or your partner, and none of you will like this.
You might blame the other person for your situation, you might say that out loud and turn on each other.But here is the catch, if we ever did that, we would be lost.There was no one else except the 2 of us to fight this battle for our child, and unless we worked together there was no way we could move forward, not a bit.

The third for me was the Canadian Winter.I had Winter before, usually it lasted from November till March, there was a lot of snow and cold and so on, I thought I can deal with Winter here...well, I was wrong.
I can't, and I hate it, it feels like it lasts forever and it ends sometime in June, there is no Spring for me, just a skip from Winter to Summer.But the more Canadian I become the more I understand the meaning of us being proud of our dealing with this season, yes it sucks big time, but it lights up when a neighbor cleans your walkway for you just to show they care, or when kids snuggle with hort chocolate watching a game on neighborhood ice rink we all helped to build, or when you let moms park on your drive way to drop off kids just because you live by the school...So, Winter is more Canadian than anything.

The fourth trap is the worst one.It is your assumption that this experience will not change who you are.
It will change you, it will change how you feel,it will change what you do for living and it will change what your life goals are.
If you ever decide to immigrate, please be aware of this- Immigration will break you to pieces, then it will be up to you to find the pieces that work and are acceptable in this culture and keep them, and you might find that some other things such as bad habits,some memories, cultural things and behaviors should be left in the corner.
Here is one thing I had to adjust to.In Eastern Europe, when you meet someone and he asks you "how are you?" it is quite ok to actually tell the truth, if you are sick, or have a headache or have been feeling not so well -you can share that with the person who asked the question, you can even complain a bit and he or she will nod their head in understanding and try to say something nice to comfort you.
Well, not here, unless you are seeing a nurse or a doctor, if you start complaining the person will look at you as though they are uncomfortable, all they wanted to hear is the usual "Fine , thank you" not your personal medical history and whining,in this culture you are oversharing and your personal things should stay that way, especially at work!